Remember those heady days of $120 oil? Most industry insiders don’t expect a return to that price level anytime soon.

But other changes are underway. Bill Maloney, who serves on the University of Houston Energy Advisory Board, suggests we could be heading for a supply crunch because of massive underinvestment in the upstream portion of the oil and gas industry over the past three years. In a piece for the UH Energy blog hosted by, he said that other factors are also changing the industry in fundamental ways.

Oil prices aren’t the whole story, he wrote. “My view is that there are four factors impacting the energy business that can lead to long-term structural change.”

That includes a new generation of CEOs, many with significant downstream experience; sustainable lower costs, a genuine concern and action plan to reduce carbon emissions globally; and financial markets demanding more fiscal discipline.

Maloney notes that approximately 80 percent of the world’s total energy currently is sourced from hydrocarbons—oil, gas and coal. Projections from many global organizations see that number being reduced to 60 percent by 2040, with a larger share taken up by natural gas. The remaining 40 percent will be renewable energy.

So as the energy mix is starting to change and the industry is shifting focus to produce oil and gas in a more sustainable manner, research projects are looking for ways to help meet the new goals. Researchers at UH, from chemical engineers to atmospheric chemists and genomic biologists, are targeting key issues for a 21st century industry.

Improving Capacity

Wider adoption of renewable energy will require batteries that can safely store the energy until it is needed. Yan Yao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is working on several approaches to producing a better battery—improved storage capacity and less prone to exploding and other risks than traditional lithium ion batteries, while being environmentally friendly.

Detecting Emissions

Work by Robert Talbot, professor of atmospheric chemistry and director of the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, to detect and measure atmospheric methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—at drilling sites, processing plants and other areas.

Boosting Recovery

A $1.4 million project with Oil India Limited, a national oil company of India, to demonstrate using carbon dioxide captured from nearby petrochemical plants to boost oil recovery in a field in the Indian state of Assam, a project which will help to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. The project is led by Ganesh Thakur, recruited in 2016 as director of Energy Industrial Partnerships and Distinguished Professor of Petroleum Engineering.

Reducing Risk

Research led by Chief Energy Officer Ramanan Krishnamoorti to develop new ways to predict when an offshore drilling rig is at risk for a potentially catastrophic accident. Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the work also has implications for onshore drilling and possibly the risks highlighted by the death of five oilfield workers following the explosion in January of a natural gas rig in Oklahoma. The work, which uses advanced computing to better understand the movement of gas up a drilling pipe, is being done in partnership with Mulberry Well Systems LLC and other industry representatives.

Minimizing Impact

A multi-year research agreement with ExxonMobil Chemical Company focused on helping the industry find ways to produce specialty chemicals and other petrochemical products in an energy-efficient manner while at the same time minimizing the environmental impact of the products.